If you’re local to Vancouver and familiar with the vibrant design community here, you may have heard of DesignLaB Interiors. Founded and run by the talented Alexis MacKay-Dunn, DesignLaB is known for their ability to transform clients’ homes into clean, modern spaces that undoubtedly reflect the best of west coast living, while also remaining both aesthetically pleasing and functional. Whether it’s a single room project, a new build or a big (or small!) renovation, Alexis and her team are passionate about bringing their clients’ dream home to life.
Recently, we were thrilled to have the chance to work closely with her on a new build project that we are sharing exclusive sneak peeks of below (captured by the infinitely talented Janis Nicolay!). And, we took the opportunity to ask her some burning questions about her path to interior design, and what keeps her inspired daily. To learn more about Alexis, keep reading for an inside look into her fascinating world of interior design!
OAT: Let’s start with a quick intro! Tell us more about yourself, and what led you to interior design. How would you describe your approach to design, and your overall style?
Alexis: I started my career in interior design over 12 years ago - after dabbling in numerous industries that helped shape my perspective on interior design as a business. I had originally set out to university in Toronto where I achieved a commerce degree in retail, with an interest in buying (which seemed glamorous at the time!) and had a sneak peak at retail design. After a brief stint in commercial property appraisal after I returned to Vancouver, I decided it was time to get into my passion of interior design and I went to school at BCIT. During my design education I managed a home staging business, which not only gave me an edge in real space planning, but also connected me to a community of designers, realtors and home owners. I felt like I hit my stride.
My design tastes have evolved over time, but I tend toward a more clean, masculine aesthetic, tending to keeping things neutral and classic for my base materials (except for my green kitchen at home!). While I have always admired art deco and traditional designs, my heart is with the clean and simple more modern aesthetic. However, I’ve heard time and time again from clients that I have a knack for creating a warmth that always feels like home!
OAT: Now, on to this project. We had so much fun collaborating with you on unique furniture pieces for this home. Help us paint a picture of what this project looked like from the very beginning. What was the ‘state of the home’ when you first began? How long did the design process take from beginning to end? You know the drill!
Alexis: The previous home had had a large amount of water damage and was inhabitable. In fact, it was at a point where it was a better idea to start anew than remediate. I began this project when the architect handed the plans to me in early 2019 (just after I had my first child!). I was given the rooms’ outlines, but otherwise it was carte blanche for me to add my touch for the interiors.
The home is located at 54th and Oak in Vancouver and from beginning to end, has taken three years! We completed this home amidst a pandemic and worked with the home’s offshore owner to design and complete. The main design itself was completed in a few months, but I continued to work with the owner, architect and builder, Ronse Massey Developments, throughout the process. Collectively, we’re a team of eyes on the ground for the owner so there is a lot of back and forth and certainly a lot of gained trust through this process.
OAT: What were some of the key design goals for this home?
Alexis: Because the owners live offshore, our primary goal for this home was to produce something that felt like home but was turn key and easy for the clients when they visited a couple times of year. The main solution for this ended up being a lot of built-ins and design tricks like streamlining the bed frame built-ins and closets to ensure they were functional, clean and traveler friendly. We customized each of the six bedrooms for each family member, by incorporating different large feature lights and unique custom fabric headboard and drapery for each room. Additionally, we added character to the bedrooms by incorporating important details like the gorgeous Melrose Chairs sourced from Once A Tree Furniture which make for a comfortable and stylish spot to relax and unwind with a book at the end of a long day!
OAT: Were any unique materials or design elements used in this project? If so, what was the inspiration behind them?
Alexis: We have a large fireplace as the centerpiece of the main living space that we cladded in Mat Concrete floor to ceiling. It is flanked by custom bookshelves in dark stained oak, and compliments the bold, black textured Dubois Cocktail Table that adds more eye-catching contrast to the living area. We also used a lot of white oak detailing in the home - all stained in two custom colours - which brighten up the space. The living area was also thoughtfully furnished with statement furniture in neutral tones throughout - including some of our current favorites like the Clayton Chair and Dexter Accent Table - that will remain timeless for years to come.
One additional unique feature the architect, Alexandre Ravkov, created is a curved wall for the staircase. We cladded the living room side of the wall with vertical oak ‘slats’, and continued the detail across the kitchen ceiling which created balance and warmth in the large space.
OAT: What makes this project special? Do you have any favourite parts of the home, and why?
I find this home particularly special as it just radiates my style! I was really able to take the reins and make it totally my aesthetic, and the client really trusted my input so it feels very ‘me’. Being able to create so many built-ins is also something unique to this home which I also love. Being able to customize a home to work for your clients needs is always a challenge but equally satisfying when you can achieve it and maintain your style!
OAT: Tell us more about your backstory while working on this project. Were there any hiccups or delays along the way, and how did this impact the project and process?
Alexis: A little thing called COVID really left its mark on this project - in fact, we are still dealing with delays in shipping for the exterior patios, and a few outstanding furniture pieces. Besides the general pains of everyone in this industry (and many other industries), on a personal level, I also had a pretty big health issue to manage. I was diagnosed with kidney disease (IgA Nephropathy) when I was pregnant with my first child, and it was determined that I had it for a long time but it had gone undetected. After my son was born, as I was planning and coordinating this project, my husband and I were given a small window to try for our second child as my kidney function was declining. The good news is, we were successful! But as my pregnancy evolved, my kidneys declined significantly and we had to deliver my daughter (yay!) at 32 weeks (not a yay). Between trips to the nicu and my own extended stay in hospital, it was obvious my kidneys were not going to recover and that I needed a transplant ASAP. I spent a few months on dialysis, and in June 2021, I found my angel and had my transplant. I do need to give my husband some credit here as he held us all up through this time! With little to no kidney function, you also have little to no brain function so I wasn’t much help around the house! Post transplant life has been life changing. While I still deal with health challenges each day (my kidney disease has reared its ugly face in my new kidney so I am constantly monitored), we are doing our best to enjoy my health (and brain!), and trying to fit in as much family time as possible. For now I am feeling good, and we will live in this space until we need to shift gears.
All of this to say, my personal health and family challenges did not make it easy to keep a large design project on track. It was no easy feat, but thankfully everyone involved was very understanding and my fellow design friends stepped in to help when I needed things adjusted or reviewed. It's amazing to see the community step up when you need it and I will be forever grateful for all the support we received.
OAT: Thank you so much for sharing this heartfelt story with us. Your strength is inspiring! Let’s shift gears a bit to the broader design world. In your expert opinion, what are some design trends we can look forward to seeing in the last half of 2022?
Alexis: I’m probably not the ‘trendiest’ person to ask as I’ve got my head in the sand with two kids, a busy work schedule, and trying to get back to enjoying a healthy life for a bit! But, I’m a big believer in choosing timeless designs, and if I was to push someone in the right direction I would say things like: choose natural stones (don’t shy from honed granite, 90’s are back baby!), and keep things tone on tone with added texture. Interiors tend to follow fashion trends as well, so we’re all about the juxtaposition of proportion and texture.
OAT: What’s next for DesignLaB? Any exciting new projects you’re working on?
Alexis: I feel like I’m just getting warmed back up so I’m excited for what is next for me personally, and for DesignLaB. I have a couple tricks up my sleeve that will be showcased soon enough (if we get the furniture in time, right!?). I feel like I’ve got a second chance at all this, now that I’m reenergized I’m ready to create and have lots of fun doing it.
OAT: Finally, where can people find you online for more information about your services + offerings?
Alexis: On my website you can find my contact information and some projects we’ve done in the past (www.design-lab.ca), and make sure you follow along on Instagram (@designlabca) to stay up-to-date on what we’re working on currently!
Thank you for taking the time to chat with us, Alexis! Visit DesignLaB’s website for more information and don’t forget to give us a follow on Instagram @onceatreefurniture. Over the next couple weeks, we’ll be sharing more BTS looks at this gorgeous home designed by Alexis, and highlighting key furniture pieces included in this project from Once A Tree that you can check out for your own home, too!
If you’re working on a home renovation, a one-room refresh or interior design on a new home build, get in touch with us to see how we can help you bring your dream home to life! From custom-built furniture to luxury accessories and more, contact us today. And, be sure to subscribe to our e-newsletter to be the first to know about our upcoming sales, exclusive discounts, designer tips and more!